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Netflix: Tiger King was big, but Spenser Confidential was huge

And Netflix just released what's on track to be its most popular competition show: Hot contestants lose prize money if they have sex.

Action-comedy film Spenser Confidential was Netflix's biggest self-proclaimed hit for early 2020. 

Netflix's viral docuseries Tiger King may have been a feverish, collective binge-watch last month just as the coronavirus pandemic truly locked down the world, but another Netflix release earlier this year outstripped even Tiger King's popularity. 

On Tuesday, Netflix dropped another cache of popularity figures for its originals, as it also reported insane subscriber growth for the beginning of the year. Spenser Confidential, an action-comedy movie starring Mark Wahlberg, was watched by 85 million households in its first month of release, compared with the (still crazy) 64 million households that watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness in its first month. 

And Netflix mentioned the popularity of Too Hot to Handle, a dating competition reality show released last week with the winning premise that a group of hot people are isolated at a resort and then lose prize money every time they have a sexual encounter with each other. It's on track to be "probably our biggest competition show ever," Netflix head of content Ted Sarandos said Tuesday.

Other popularity rankings are included below. 

For years, Netflix was notoriously tight-lipped about viewership. The creator of House of Cards, which put Netflix's original content efforts on the map, once said the company wouldn't even share viewership metrics with him. But lately Netflix has loosened up to help recruit talent and stoke up buzz.

Netflix's stats need big disclaimers. For one, they aren't independently verified, nor are they backed up by detailed data from the company. Netflix is in the unique position that it can cherry-pick highlights, and we don't have much independent data to verify it. Traditional media companies, on the other hand, have their box office performance independently monitored, and they're at the mercy of Nielsen ratings as the barometer for TV shows.

Also, don't compare Netflix's numbers to metrics like Nielsen ratings or box office figures. It's tempting to compare how many people watched a Netflix show versus one on regular TV, or to estimate how much money a big movie on Netflix would have made at the box office. But these metrics aren't even close to comparable because the methods behind them differ wildly.

And at the beginning of this year, Netflix switched to a new viewership metric. Netflix now counts a title as "watched" if you choose to watch it and let it play for two minutes. With some shows or movies, you can turn them off before you even hit the main title sequence and it still counts as view. In the past, Netflix wouldn't start counting something as "watched" until you got through 70% of the first episode of a series or of a film's total runtime.

Netflix advocates for the new standard by saying the new two-minute threshold is more fair to all titles, regardless of their length. But it also inflates the viewership number by about one-third. 

On Tuesday, Netflix released viewership stats for the following titles that hit in the first quarter of the year. All the following figures are for the titles' first four weeks of release using the two-minute metric, except for Netflix's projections where noted:

  • Spenser Confidential was watched by 85 million households
  • Season four of Spanish language thriller series La Casa de Papel, or Money Heist, is projected to hit 65 million
  • Tiger King was watched by 64 million 
  • Cringe-inducing dating competition Love Is Blind was watched by 30 million 
  • Ozark's season three is projected to be watched by 29 million

Here are Netflix's previous viewership stat for past titles. Again, all the following figures are for the titles' first four weeks of release using the two-minute metric, except for Netflix's projections where noted:

  • 6 Underground, a Michael Bay explosion-fest movie starring Ryan Reynolds -- 83 million accounts
  • The Witcher, a fantasy series based on an existing franchise of books and video games -- 76 million accounts 
  • You, the second season of the psychological thriller series -- projection for 54 million accounts, based on first weeks' viewing since its Dec. 26 release
  • The Crown, the third season of the historical drama series -- 21 million accounts (and Netflix said 73 million accounts have watched The Crown since the series launched)
  • Klaus, an animated holiday film nominated for an Oscar -- 40 million accounts

And these are previous viewerships stats Netflix has released (or projected) for the first four weeks of release for other titles, in order of most watched to least. But these are based on its old measurement scheme, which counts fewer viewers.

  • Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic movie starring Sandra Bullock -- more than 80 million households
  • Murder Mystery, a comedy movie starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston -- more than 73 million households
  • Stranger Things season 3, a retro sci-fi series -- 64 million households 
  • Triple Frontier, an action/heist movie starring Ben Affleck -- more than 52 million households
  • The Perfect Date, a teen rom-com movie with heartthrob Noah Centineo -- 48 million households
  • Umbrella Academy, a superhero series -- 45 million households
  • Money Heist season 3, a Spanish series about a gang of thieves also known as La Casa de Papel -- 44 million accounts
  • Tall Girl, a teen rom-com movie -- 41 million households
  • You, a stalker thriller series that originally aired on Lifetime in the fall -- more than 40 million homes
  • Sex Education, a British teen dramedy show -- more than 40 million households
  • The Highwaymen, a period crime movie starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson -- more than 40 million households
  • Secret Obsession, a movie mystery about a young wife with amnesia -- 40 million views
  • The Irishman, a film epic about the Mafia directed by Martin Scorsese -- more than 40 million homes
  • Our Planet, a BBC-style nature docu-series -- 33 million households
  • Always Be My Maybe, a comedy film with Ali Wong and Randall Park -- 32 million households
  • Unbelievable, a true-crime miniseries about the victims of a serial rapist and the detectives hunting him down -- 32 million accounts
  • Dead to Me, a dramedy series with Christina Applegate -- 30 million households
  • Otherhood, a movie about a band of moms visiting their adult sons by surprise -- 29 million households 
  • When They See Us, a buzzy limited series from creator Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five case -- 25 million households 
  • Bodyguard, a BBC-World Productions series that previously aired in the UK -- 23 million member households
  • FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, a documentary film about the Fyre Fest debacle -- more than 20 million homes
  • Élite, a Spanish-language high-school soap series -- more than 20 million member households 
  • Baby, an Italian teen drama series -- more than 10 million homes
  • The Protector, Netflix's first Turkish original series -- more than 10 million households